You may recall the scene in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (the best book you read in 10th grade English class) during one of Gatsby’s bacchanalian parties, when Nick and Jordan meet a man with thick glasses in Gatsby’s private library. The man assures them with great enthusiasm that the books are real. “Absolutely real — have pages and everything,” he says, “I thought they’d be nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real.” He elaborates that Gatsby “knew when to stop too — didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?”
In the case of Long Beach’s Gatsby Books, the newest addition to LARB’s Reckless Reader program, you can expect a beautiful little bookstore likewise full of real books, though here the majority have their pages cut; they are lightly and lovingly used.
Gatsby Books possesses the kind of quiet unique to small bookshops. Once through the doors, insulated by the books, the outside fades to a dull hum; in that quiet you can open a book and enter any world you want, remake yourself into any character. Gatsby provides a wide selection of books on labyrinthine shelves that shape themselves into nooks for each subject — literature, mystery, science fiction, poetry, religion, you name it. Shelves within the sections are named as well: in science fiction there are shelves labeled “…to boldly go where no man has gone before” and “In a galaxy far, far away…” for their collection of Star Trek and Star Wars books; religion boasts a shelf called “CS Lewis and other theologians”; buried in the psychology section is “Sex and other subjects.” And yes, Fitzgerald has a special shelf all to himself, beneath which the shop cat Ruby (upon whom the store based its logo) makes her nest.
The books themselves are less the shiny strangers who flood the manor of the shop’s namesake and more old familiar friends. There are well read copies of Thomas Hardy, John Keats, Jane Austen, and other authors of a crowd which needs no introduction. And though the inventory was not “transported complete from some ruin overseas” as Nick Caraway assumes of Jay Gatsby’s library, the shop does occasionally get their hands on old or rare books, like the first edition copies of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody, and Albert Camus’s The Plague that they have been promoting on their Facebook page.
They aren’t quite Jay Gatsby level blow-outs, but the shop hosts open mic nights, small concerts from local bands, and Sunday tea with various authors. They are altogether smaller, more intimate affairs and a great time to drop by and introduce yourself.
There might not be a green light to welcome you, but Gatsby Books is likely the shop you have spent years searching for in a world of chain stores and online ordering.